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'A Deluge Of Awful, Awful Images': Minnesota Journalist Describes Fleeing Afghanistan

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Minnesota native is back on American soil. He landed in Washington D.C. after being evacuated by the U.S. State Department from Afghanistan.

Jay Lawrence is a Redwood Falls High School graduate who served with the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Military Infantry Division in Iraq. For the past three and a half years he's worked in Kabul as a civilian journalist with U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

"Being out in the city, everyone was not only sad, not only scared about the future, but they were just hopeless. A lot of people just had no hope," Lawrence said.

Lawrence says he couldn't believe how quickly the dynamic changed in Afghanistan once American troops started to leave. He and his colleagues were on the fence about exiting the country they called home for the past three and a half years.

"Then a whole bunch of dominoes fell and we needed to go now. We were hoping to go around Aug. 31 or Sept. 1, but once the provinces starting falling we knew that we had to leave," Lawrence said.

Lawrence was amongst the lucky ones, evacuated by the State Department along with people who worked inside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Jay Lawrence
Jay Lawrence (credit: CBS)

"I said a lot of goodbyes that weren't very good at all. I felt sadder with each one. I knew all I could say is, 'I hope things get better and I hope things are fine,' and that's all I could give them," Lawrence said.

He knew many Afghans felt trapped -- no way out by air and all border checkpoints out of the country now controlled by the Taliban.

"I really hope that people keep in mind that I and many other Americans were able to get out, but there are a lot of Afghans who believed in the United States' mission and who are stuck there and are at great risk of retribution from the Taliban," Lawrence said.

Once back in country, television gave him a front row seat to what he left behind.

"It was like a deluge of awful, awful images," he said. "No clean end, just a very sad, messy exit."

His heart goes out to his comrades he served with in Iraq who also served in Afghanistan. He hopes they find peace in the role they played in nation-building and the lives they touched.

Lawrence knows they will need help in processing what did and did not happen in Afghanistan.

"I hope that there is someone they can reach out to or one can reach out to them," he said.

There are resources for any service members who needs help in processing what they experienced while deployed. Contact your unit commander or you can call the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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